Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "ERIC ED204770: An Alternative View of the Thirties: The Industrial Photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine and Margaret Bourke-White."

See other formats


DOCDHENT 5ESDt1E 



ED 20U 770 



CS 206 «1B 



AOTHOR 
T'^IE 



pnB DATE 
NOTE 



Smith, C. zoe ^ ^ . , 

An Alternative View of the Thirties: The Industrial 
Photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine aad Margaret 
Bourke-white. 

Aua B1 . ^ ^i. 

I7p.: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the 
Association for Education in Journalism (6i4th, East 
Lansina, HT, August 3-11, 19B11. Some pages may not 
reproduce clearly. 



ED5S PBTCE 
DESCPTPTOPS 



IDENTIFIERS 



MF01/PC01 Plus Postaae. 

*ComparatiTe Analysis: Industrialization: ^Industry: 
Journalism^. *Laborers: *Machine Tools; *PhD t ography : 
*Dnited States History 

*Pourke white (Margaret» : Depression {EcoaDaic 1929) 
*Hine (Lewis Wickes) : Photojournalism 



ABSTRACT 



and Lewis 
Onited 



The photographs of Margaret Bourke-Hhite 
wickes Hine are graphic accounts of the urban industrial 
S'-a'-es duT-ing the Depression of the 1 930s. Hine was a sociologist who 
ini^-ially used his camera to promote social reform and is best 
T-emembered for his photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, New 
York, and of children laboring in coal mines and textile mills. He 
Ta»-er concentrated his photography on Americans on the job, 
e«:pec^ally when that iob meant working with machinery, hoping to. 
dep^c*-' ^-he true dignity a^d integrity of labor. Documenting what was 
aood abr.Ti+ i aborers--their control over themselves and their 
m^ch^'^es. and the dependence of one laborer upon another— motivated 
h-*«5 eaT-iiPT- work. Haraaret Bourke-Hhite was more intrigued by 



^■^^,^^^^.ectu'-e and Industry, although she photoaraphed a variety of 
sabi^-ts during her career with "Fortune" and "Life" magazines, 
Bou^ke-Whi*-e seemed not to heve appreciated or understood the 
wo^ke^-'s relationship to industrialized society. To her, machines 
were a se'-ies of beautiful patterns to which she attributed huaan 
aaal^^-^es. In her photographs, htimans merely served as refarence 
DO^'^ts from which to judge the tremendous size of machines. Her lack 
of'cou.-assion in these early industrial photographs is what clearly 
distinguishes her work from that of Hine. (HTH) 



************************************************************** ******* 

Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made 

from the original document. 



ERIC 




U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION 
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION 

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION 
CENTER (ERlCl 
•This document has boon reproduced tis 
received from the pKjfson or organisation 
onyinaiing it. 

Minor chiinges have bi»en mitde to tmprovt; 
reproduction quality, 

■ • Points of view or ttpiciKjns stated in thi;; docu 

ment do not nectJi/xtniy refiresenl officwl Nl£ 
poftition or policy 

o 

LU 



AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF THE THIRTIES: 
THE INDUSTRIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF LEWIS WICKES HINE AND MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE 



by 

C. Zoe Smith 
Marquette University 



••PERMISSION TO "EP™,^.^"^^ 
„;,TER1AL HAS BEEN GRANTED BY 



TO THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES 
InFORM'^T'ON center (ERICV 



Presented to the Photojournalism -ision of ^^e Association for Education 
in Journalism. Annual Convention. East Lansing, Michigan, August 9-U. 1981, 



er|c 



The depression has made us acutely aware of the fact 
that our brilliant technological skills are shackled 
to the shambling gait of an institutional Caliban. , 

—Robert Lynd 



The tumultuous Thirties have been described in many different ways 
by many different writers in many different disciplines, and this 
intensive scrutiny has wade this decade in American history seem super- 
real: a time so talked about, s« carefully analyzed, so documented 
(pictorial ly), that it nearly ceases to be a part of our ejiperience. 
In one sense, the Thirties have become a legend, a myth, a symbol for 
something greater than itself. 

For those who did not live through thore times (and even for many 
who did), there are several important sources from which images of 
that era are drawn. For tiany. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Hrath, or 
Horace McCoy's They Shoot Morses. Don't They? or Dashiell Hammett's 
The Maltese falcon provide a memorable view of life in the Thirties. 
Of course, images from the Photographic Unit of the Farm Security 
Administration (FSA) are powerful sources for the vision of the 
Depression held by many Americans. Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," 
Arthur Rothstein's "Oust Bowl." and Walker Evan's "Alabama Cabin Washroom' 
are among the most widely published photographs from that time. 

Although these photographs of American life during the Thirties 
have received and continue to receive acclaim for their straightforward- 
ness and bi^auty, it must be remembered that the FSA photographers' 
primary task was to document rural life at that time. The portraits of 



America which Lange, Evens, Rothstein, Russell Lee, Ben Shahn, Marion 
Post Wolcott. John Vachon, Jack Delano. Carl Flydans, and others made 
during the course of the FSA's seven year existence served many useful 
purposes; however, these linages do not speak to the entire Depression 
Era. Conspicuously absent frm most of the FSA work is an account of 
urban/industrfal Americas, which can be found in the photographs of 
Margaret Bourke-White 090^-19^1) an<i Lewis Wickes Mine (1874-1940). 

Nevertheless, it was through stjch efforts as those of the 
Photographic Unit of the FSA that photography "came of age" during the 
Thirties. In an atten^t to understand American culture, photograpny 
becante recognized as a tool for documenting the lives and values of the 
American people. Of course, mass reproduction of photographic tmages 
had been technically possible since the halftone process was first 
employed by the New York Daily Graphic in 1880, but, as with most 
technological developments, it took time to learn to successfully 
employ this new tool . 

The Thirties saw the evolution of the "talkies," the Big Bands, the 
fire-side chats of President Roosevelt, radio soap operas, and news- 
reels. American's growing depe,idence upon the mass media for knowledge 
of their lives and the lives of others brought about a new interest in 
photographic images. Even people who could, not read could look at 
photographs. With the Thirties came a new interest and reliance upon 
both sight and sound. 

Technological developments, such as the Leica ("candid camera") and 
the Contax, lenses that were faster and interchangeable, and flashbulbs 



that were stnokeless and silent, tnade pictinre-malnng considerably easier. 
It is cuvious that technological developments made r. m possible for 
Americans to-document an era trouble by the fal'- • ■ industrialization 
and technological achievements. With the help rflo, filir.s, 

newspapers, and mgazfnes- CiHustrated magazines u ^ ry popular in 
the late Thirties).. Ainericans were able to see, hear, read about 
the victims of the mchine Age. In other words, machines were being 
used to report on the effect of other machines upon tt.f quality of 
American life. 

Many Americans of the Thirties now were able to feel themselves a 
part of others' experiences, to know that many others were adversely 
affected by the mechanization of industry as well. With so many people 
out of work, industry and the government came under scrutiny by the 
public. Articles concerning technology and man and the machine appeared 
in various middle-class magazines during the Depression,^ pointing out 
that industrial production was increasing despite the fact that the 
number of wage earners was decreasing . As Archibald l^acLeish pointed 
out: 

It became apparent that industrialism was moving toward 
a degree of mechanization in which fewer and fewer men 
need be, or indeed could be. employed. . .the direction of 
growth of industrialism has changed, our civilization 
has turned a comer, and the ancfent conception of human 
work as the basis of economic exchange and of the right 
to live is obsolete, since the work of machines and 3 
the conversion of nonhuman energy take the human place. 

Despite this great concern with urban industrialization and 

mechanizstion. the photographs of the Thirties which address these very 



4 



issues usually are not remembered by the public. While the FSA images 
predominate the popular thinking about the Depression, photographs by 
Bourke-White and Hine offer an alternative view of the Thirties which 
warrants attention. Although both Bourke-White and Hine enjoy con- 
siderable eminence as great American photographers, their images or 
steel mills, skyscrapers, dams, bridges, and factories from the 
Depression Era are not necessarily what they are remembered for most. 

It is not the purpose of this paper to speculate why the Bourke- 
White and Hine images are not as popular as those of the FSA photographers; 
instead, the issue is why Bourke-White and Hine photographed industry, 
and how their celebration of America's industrialization 
differed. 

Hine, a native of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, began photographing in 1905 
while teaching botany and nature studies at the Ethical Culture School 
in New York City. Having studied at Oshkosh Normal School, the 
University of Chicajo, and Columbia University (where he received a 
Pd.M. in 1905), Hine was a sociologist who used his camera to promote 
social reform. Although best known for his photographs of immigrants 
at Ellis Island, and children laboring for pennies in coal mines and 
textile mills, Hine also photographed the activities of the American 
Red Cross in Europe during World War I, the lighter side of life in 
Army and Navy camps, and the construction of the Empire State Building 
in New York City in the early Thirties. Throughout much of his career 
as a photographer, Hine concentrated on "the man on the job," especially 
when that job meant working with machinery, such as in coal mines, 
textile mills, power plants, railroad yards, construction sites, glass 



ERIC 



5 



and airplane factories, powerhouses, and on the docks at the waterfront. 

For the 35 years Mine was a photographer, his credo was: "There 
are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had 
to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated." 
His reputation as a Progressive reformer grew out of his images of things 
that had to be corrected. It was not until he reached middle age that 
he really concentrated on things that had to be appreciated , including 
man and machinery. 

Hine said he gained an appreciation for the life of the worker 
while he was still in grairenar school and worked long hours in a 
furniture factory for $4 a week. Before becoming a teacher, he also 
was employed in a bank and a store. It has been said that Hine "... 
understood that America is a country where work is the ground of 
character, the shaper of life. In an age characterized by pessimism 
and skepticism, Hine was an idealist, an optimist. Although he 
recognized that working men were often underpaid, exploited, and ill- 
treated by their employers, Hine felt he had to take "work portraits," 
as he liked to call them. Taking pictures of the world's nobodies 
was important to Hine because of the beauty he found in the workers* 
hands, faces, posture and movenents. To Hine, America was its laborers. 

After returning from Europe in 1919, Hine documented men on the 
job. Believing his earlier photographs, especially those done for the 
National Child Labor Coriiii ttee , had emphasized only the negative aspects 
of industrialization, Hine decided to turn his camera on the affirmative 
aspects of the Machine Age. What resulted was the first significant 



ERIC 



book of his v^ork, entitled Hen at Work, which first appeared in 1932. 

Hine's attituds toward the working man was heavily inflxienced by 
the values of the Progressive Movement, a political and social philosophy 
prevalent in the Teens and Twenties when Hi ne came of age. Even when he 
was photographing what he felt "needed to be appreciated,'' Hine 
continued in the Progressive mode as a reformer, using his- camera to 
preach to the American public. In this case he now was hoping to depict 
the "true dignity and tntegrity of labor. A true believer in the 
American work ethic and other democratic ideals, Hine seemed sure men 
could make something of themselves if only they would personally respond 
to the great challenges, of an industrialized society. According to 
Paul Rayner. "He expected his portraits to arouse the worker to a sense 
of nobility and the strength of his labors."^ 

Surely the fact that Hine was nearly 50 years old when he began to 
concentrate on the laborer-as-hero had a profound Influence on his work. 
Hine had worked hard all his life and even as he grew old he clung to 
his belief in work as the shaper of life. This aging man's attempt to 
recapture the spirit of an America he had known years before resulted 
in ften at Wor k. Originally advertised as a book for children, it was 
well received by the public, especially by educators and members of 
social organizations who saw the book as a valuable educational tool. 
It is clear that the images- in this book, the majority of which 
document the construction of the Empire State Building, were not just 
rraant for children'js eyes; these photographs were meant to be a 
testimonial to the Urkfng man— the backbone of America— for everyone 



7 



to see. 

Hine clearly stated his intentions in the foreword to the book, 

which is printed here in full. 

This is a book of Men at Work; man of courage, skill, 
daring and imagination. Cities do not build them- 
selves, machines cannot tnake machines, unless in 
back of them aTi are the brains and toil of men. We 
call this the Machine Age. But the more machines we 
use the more do we need real men to make and direct 
them. 

I have toiled in many industries and associated with 
thousands of workers. I have brought some of them 
here to meet you. Some of them are heroes; all of 
them persons it is a privilege to know. I will take 
you into the heart of modern industry where machines 
and skyscrapers are being made, where the character 
of the men is being put into the motors, the air- 
planes, the dynamos upon which the life and 
happiness of millions of us depend. 

Then the more you see of modern machines, the more 
may you, too, respect the men who make them and 
mwiipulate them. 8 

It is only fitting that a major portion of thi.^ book was devoted 
to the men who helped build the Empire State Building. At a time when 
so many people were out of work, the construction of this building 
employed up to as many as 4,Q00 men per day, plus thousands of men in 
building-materials plants ard railroad yards. Once the building was 
completed, approximately 20,000 workers and 40,000 daily visitors were 
housed in the Empire State Building. This building not only provided 
jobs and promised jobs, but it also premised to be ",..a colossus of 
modernity... the highest structure ever reared by mankind, fulfilling 
•nyriad prophecies on time, space and infinity." 

For Hine, documenting wh?t was good about man-^his strength, his 

ERIC 9 



8 



control over himself and the machine, and the dependence of one man 
upon another-notivated this later work just as his belief in correcting 
social ills had motivated his earlier v;ork. 

An alternative look at the Thirties also was offered by Margaret 
Bourke-White, who is quite a different breed of photographer when 
compared to Hine. Born in New York City, Bourke^^hite began photo- 
graphing as a way of financing her college education. After studying 
biology and technology at five different universities, she graduated 
from Cornell University in 1927, and then moved to Cleveland (where 
her family lived) to begin her career as a professional photographer. 
In many ways, her career was quite a contrast to that of Mine's. 

From the beginning of her professional life, Bourke-White was 
intrigued by architecture and industry, subjects with which she became 
acquainted through ner father, an engineer-designer. According to 
hsr autobiography, as a child she accompanied her father on trips to 
factories where he supervised the setting up of rotary presses, and 
she was so impressed that she believed "a foundry represented the 
beginning and end of all beauty. Later when I became a photographer... 
this memory v/as so vivid and so alive that it shaped the whole course 
JO 

of my career. 

The two years (1927-1929) that Bourke-White spent photographing the 
steel mills in Cleveland produced the first examples of her love of 
industry. Working as a coimiercial photographer by day and a speculative 
freelancer by night, Bourke-White was able to sell at least eight prints 
to a steel industry tycoon at the unheard of price of $100 per print. 



9 



These pictures from the steel mills, which Bourke-White believed vvere 
at the heart of industry with the most drama, the most beauty," 
were published in several mid-wer.tern newspapers, interesting publisher 
Henry Luce in her photographic abilities. After a trip to New York 
City, Bourke-White decided to join the staff of a new business magazine 
Luce was planning to pubUsh. As a staff photographer for Fortune , 
she proved how talented she was, and her skill eventually led to her 
employment as one of the four photographers on the original staff of 
Life. Bourke-White 's long tenure with Luce's two magazines meant 
many exciting assignments which took her to the far corners of the 
world. 

Over a 26-year-period she photographed a variety of topics, 
primarily because she shot what was "in the news" at a given time. Her 
career as a photojournalist brought assignments which ranged from 
photographing notables like Stalin, Churchill, and Pope Pius XI, to the 
American sharecroppers during the Depression Csome of her images are 
mistakenly thought to be part of the FSA project). Bourke-White 
photographed Nazi death camps at the end of the war, Moscow while it was 
under Nazi attack. South African diamond and gold mines, and India at the 
time of Gandhi's assassination. Her life, unlike Hine's, was gla^Morous 
and dramatic, dangerous and high-paying. While Hine was struggling 
to make a living during the Thirties, Bourke-Vihite was a woman on top in 
a man's world of magazine photography. 

The dramatic flare which characterized her professional life also 
characterized her photographs for Fortune and Life. Her reliance on 



ERIC 



10 



unusual camera angles and operatic lighting is the basis for criticism, 

according to historian William Stott, who thinks she overemotionalized, 

12 

sentimentalized, overdramatized nearly everything she saw. There 
is a 'Marger-than-life'- feeling to her work beginning as far back as 
her images of Cle-veland's steel mills from the late 1920s. Her power- 
ful images of industry are studies in contrast— both in terms of their 
lighting and their content. According to biographer Theodore Brown, 
Bourke -White 

...mastered the composition of mutually reinforcing 
opposites, and there is indication that she was fully 
conscious of this artistic device when she wrote a few 
years later that 'contrast. . .is an essential quality in 
the making of a g^eat photograph--or any work of art, 

or that matter Contrast lends itself to 

oescription graphically more easily than it does with 
words. Even in its most complex combinations, 
anyone can understand most photographs .' ^3 

Whereas Hine talked about industrialization in terms of man's mastery 

over the machine, Bourke-White seems not to have appreciated or understood 

man's relationship to industrialized society. To her, machines were a 

series of beautiful patterns to which she attributed human qualities. 

Just how the machines or bridges or mills or dams or storage tanks came 

to be built apparently did not concern her; instead, she was fascinated 

by their Gargantuan size and their intricate details. As she said: 

Anything in industry that has to do with progress is 
vital. Ore boats, bridges, cranes, engines— all are 
great creatures with steel hearts. They all have an 
unconscious beauty that is dynamic, because they are 
designed for a purpose. There is nothing wasted, 
nothing superficial. The realization of this idea 
will arow. It reflects the modern spirit of the 
world^.l4 

Human qualities u>ere attributed to machines by Bourke-White. She had 

little need for real human beings in these images which romanticize industry; 

I o 



ERIC 



11 



humans served as reference points from which to judge the tremendous size of 
the machines-^people provided the contrast she needed to make her point 
about the beautiful form and pattern of industry. It is clear that 
Bourke-White came of age during the 1920s, a decade between the two world 
wars in which many Americans, thought industry was the hope of social 
salvation. In her autobiography, she mads clear her feelings, toward 
.n)en and machines; she admitWa preoccupation with the neo-Bauhaus idea of 
form and function, while virtually ignoring the role man played in all 
of this. In discussing the Fortune assignment which sent her to the 
Midwest to cover the great drought of 1934, Bourke-White acknowledged 
that it is this. work that made her aware of humans as sympathetic subjects 
for her photographic reports, According to Bourke-l^rtii te. "During the 
rapturous period when I was. discovering the beauty of industrial shapes, 
people were only incidental to me, and in retrospect I believe I had not 
much feeling for them in my earlier work.''^^ 

Her lack of compassion in these early industrial photographs is what 
clearly distinguishes her work from that of Mine's. By r -ying on 
artificial light, mirrors, unusual camera angles and framing, and vast 
expanses of space. Bourke-White created modernistic designs out of machinery 
and srroke stacks, conveying a mood which she hoped all men would see as 
new, exciting, and inspiring. Hine. on the other hand, relied on a simple, 
straightforward style to tell his story. In most of his images, the 
faces of the men he photographed are clearly visible (several images have 
a snap-shot, family-album quality to them). In cases where the men 
cannot be easily identified, light falls gently on their muscular arms and 
backs so as to emphasize each man's power oyer the machine he was using. 



12 



Hine's admiration for the men he photogrgphed is evident in his work. 

Although she has been largely praised for her pioneering work, 
Bourke-White's industrial photographs have infuriated historian Stott. 
Seeing her as an opportunist, Stott said: 

She portrayed industrial machines not as everyday things 
men work with but as bright-tongued beasts in black 
caverns of smoke.... And the purpose of these unusual 
techniques was just to be unusual: to pep up the 
content, to wheedle the viewer into emotion by making 
it seem that what he looked at was fresh, subtle, and 
passionate, and not what it Was: a sentimental cliche. 
Bourke-White wanted--too obviously--to move her 
audience 16 

It appears that Hine did not arouse such negative feelings with his 
photographs of men and machines. While Bourke-White beautified industry, 
transforming "the Arr^rican factory into a Gothic cathedral and (jlorifyingj 
the gears. Hine praised mankind with a directness that some people 
considered "old-fashioned," because his photographs were not "jazzy" in the 
way that magazine and newspaper photography of the Thirties had become. 
Hine, it is said, believed that "if others could see the beauty of the 
craftsman's work, the economic importance of his existence, and the 
biological strength of his body, then they would see the new American 
Man. "19 By presenting his message in an unembellished manner, Hine hoped 
to counteract the Depression notion of the "marginal man laqre lui . " 

Bourke-White's concern clearly was with the machine, not mankind. 
This hard-driven commercial photographer wanted to reveal to the public the 
power and toe beauty of urban-industrial civilization, apparently hoping to 



13 



ERIC 



create a renewed faith and pride in technological achievements and the 
machine. To the unemployed men and women of the Depression, her images 
of mightly machines and the size of flies must have been discouraging, 
for they glorified urbanization and industrialization while virtually 
ignoring the role man played in this changing society. Hine may have 
presented Americans with a one-sided view as well, overplaying the control 
man had over machines and mechanization; however, it must have been rore 
reassuring because Hine erred on the side of his viewers. 



■J rr 



NOTES Ar^D REFERENCES 



1 As quoted in Warren I. Susman. "The Thirties." in Tnp ^^^^ 7^°^?^'^^^,^ 
an AiT^rican Culture , ed. Stanley Coben and Lorrian Fatner (Englewooa 
Cliffs. H.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.. 1970). p. 187. 

2. For example, see Stuart Chase. "The Age of Plenty and the Imperati 
Which It Involves," Harper's Magazine 168 (March 1934): 337-87. 
Archibald MacLeish. "Machines a^TTHi Future." The Nation 136 (Feb. 
8. 1933): 140-2; Charles A. Beard. "Government byTechnologists, 
The New Republic LXIII (June 18. 1930): 115-20; and a five-part 
serierby Stuart Chase entitled "Men and Machines." which appeared 
in The New Republic during five successive weeks beginning on March 
6. 1929. 

3. Macleish. op. cit. . p. 140. 

4 As quoted in Paul Re^yner. "Lewis Wickes Hine: Progressive Photographer. 
0V3 Magazine No. 26 (Winter 1977): 4. 

5. Irving Howe. "Books Considered: America & Lewis Hine, Photographs 
1909-1940 with an essay by Alan TrarhtPnbPro." ine New Republic 
177 (Oct. 29. 1977): 30. 

6. .Iiidith Mirn '^-11^—. "^"^ the American Social Conscience 
(New York: Walker and Co. . 1967), p. 'Yd. 

7. Rayner, op. cit. , p. 8. 

8 Lewis W. Hine. Me n at Work: Photoqrahic S tudies of Modern r^n and 
Mac hine; with aTuD.^ement of 18 "delated (;hoto grapps (New York: 
Dwer Publications. U^^^ In ternational Husgum of Photography at 
George Eastman House. Rochester. 1977). This book is a reprint of 
the work originally published by the Macmillan Co. in 1932. 

9. "Man's Mightiest Monument," Popular Mechanic^ 54 (December 1930): 
920. 

10. Margaret Bourke-White. Portrait of Myself (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1963), p. 18. 

11. " Ibid. , p. 49. 

12 William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties Americ a (London: 
Oxford University Press, l9/;i), PP. 60, 270. 

13 Thpodcre M Brown, "A Legend that was Largely True." in. The Photographs 
^ • I? Saroaret BoSrkl-Whi te . ed. Sean Callahan (New York: New. York 

6rapMc Wiety. l^/i), p. 12. 

14. Edna Robb Webster, "This Daring Camera Girl Scales Skyscrapers for 
Art," American Magazine 110 (November 1930): bb. 



15. Bourke-White. op. c1t. , p. liO. 

16. Stott, op. c1t., p. 270. 

17. Alden Whitman, "Margaret Bourke-Wh1te, Photo-Journalist, is Dead," 
New York Tires . Aug. 28, 1971, p. 28. 

18. Gutman, op. cit., p. 42. 

19. Ibid., p. 39. 



ERIC 



1 '-i